Mark Ornstein can walk out the front door of his Manhattan apartment, down a couple blocks to First Avenue and set foot on the course of the world-famous New York City Marathon.
"I live right by Mile 17," he said.
The New York City Marathon attracted 32,000 runners last fall, with 2 million people cheering them on. Ornstein will run in Sunday's Pacific Shoreline Marathon in Huntington Beach, thousands of miles and thousands of participants away from home.
The Huntington Beach race, as of Friday, had attracted 528 runners, ensuring elbow room for all along lonely miles of Pacific Coast Highway.
"That's terrific," Ornstein said. "That's a good-sized race. I don't like crowds."
Is an uncrowded race on a bright winter day along a fast oceanfront course enough? For Ornstein, it is. But for Herb Massinger, the promoter of the Huntington Beach race, it is not.
"I'm trying to grow what I hope will become a world-class, signature event," Massinger said. "In time, I'd like to see 5,000 to 10,000 people."
He will reach that goal Sunday, but only because the program includes a half-marathon and 5K, 8K and children's races. But Massinger envisions the Huntington Beach race developing into Southern California's third major marathon, joining the Los Angeles Marathon and the Rock 'N Roll Marathon in San Diego.
The Los Angeles race drew 20,000 runners last year. The San Diego race, in its first year, drew 19,000. Huntington Beach, without the magic of and the millions in corporate sponsorships, drew 600.
"We've got Honda in L.A.; we've got Suzuki in San Diego," Massinger said. But in Huntington Beach? "This event is coming out of Herb's back pocket."
You want thousands of runners? You need money to advertise your race. You want elite runners, who lure media attention? You need appearance fees and prize money.
You need money? You need sponsors, like Honda or Suzuki. Sponsors want exposure, which means you need elite runners and thousands of other runners too.
Did someone say Catch-22?
Many communities run successful small marathons, including one in Santa Clarita, 26 miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles, the same day as the New York race.
To join the big time, however, Massinger needs millions of dollars in corporate support, the building blocks for a civic festival that could attract competitors for a weekend of fun, not just another long run.
Massinger estimated the Pacific Shoreline Marathon's budget at between $150,000 and $200,000, including a $700 award to the men's and women's winners.
The New York City Marathon, in contrast, has a $14-million budget, with sponsors donating another $12 million worth of products and services and with $50,000 and a car for both the men's and women's winners.
The Pacific Shoreline sponsors include a cable company and a newspaper, both of them providing free publicity but no cash, Massinger said. Huntington Beach charges Massinger for its police and fire services, street closures and the installation and removal of banners.
The Pacific Shoreline Marathon is one of numerous races coordinated by Massinger's Race Pace Promotions, mostly of the 5K and 10K variety. Most major marathons are year-round operations, responsible for just the one event.
Massinger said he hopes to hire a full-time race director experienced in soliciting corporate sponsorships to help the marathon grow.
At this point, the line blurs between dreams and plans.
For one thing, he said, Los Angeles Marathon President Bill Burke "can throw $10 million into the prize purse at the L.A. Marathon and he'll never have a world record. The course is too hilly. We at least have the potential to get a world record."
Massinger also envisions a festival at the new plaza and amphitheater surrounding the Huntington Beach Pier, daylong street parties with big-screen Super Bowl broadcasts and a runners' exposition in the new convention center at the expanded Waterfront Hilton, which would be sold out with runners and their families staying for the race and visits to Disneyland and Sea World too.
"We can't sell this as a big-city marathon," Massinger said. "It's not a London or New York experience. We do have a festive day in a pretty environment, at a time of year when Southern California can be a pretty place to be."
The Hilton expansion, scheduled for completion late next year, will include a second building with 514 rooms, which would increase the city's hotel space by 44%.
Huntington Beach currently has 1,180 hotel rooms, of which 85 were taken by marathon participants last year, according to Diane Baker of the Huntington Beach Convention and Visitors' Bureau.
The Los Angeles Marathon Expo, where companies display shirts, shoes, energy bars and every conceivable product of possible interest to runners, covers 150,000 square feet at the Los Angeles Convention center, media relations director Lawrence Cohen said.
The Huntington Beach expo, in line with the modest number of runners, consists of three dozen booths near the pier.